Saturday, July 4, 2020

July 4, 2020 Covid 19 Worship Plans Update

This week, Gov. Baker announced that Massachusetts will move into Phase 3 of the state’s re-opening plan, thanks to an ongoing decline in Covid-19 cases. I am grateful for answered prayers in the form of wise leaders and the actions of neighbors who care for one another, which has allowed the state to make significant inroads in controlling the spread of the virus.

But as can be seen from the news in the rest of the country, the pandemic is not over. We must remain vigilant and careful in order to keep the spread of the disease under control. As much as we may long to return to normal, we cannot simply go back to our usual activities without undoing all the good work and sacrifices that have been made so far. 

For that reason, while our bishop has given churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts permission to begin regathering for worship, he is also encouraging us to take things slowly.  Our Diocesan Journey by Stages plan imposes serious restrictions on how worship is conducted, which are intended to mitigate the significant risks posed by our traditional practices. Occupancy is limited to one household in every third pew in order to allow for social distancing; there is to be no congregational singing or responsive reading; everyone must wear a mask, including worship leaders; we are not allowed to greet one another before or after worship; and there is to be no Holy Communion, coffee hour, or Sunday School. There are new requirements for cleaning and disinfection before and after worship, as well as instructions to collect contact information for everyone who attends each service, just in case someone is diagnosed with Covid19 after attending worship. Finally, parishioners in high risk categories, including age and underlying health conditions, are strongly advised to avoid in person worship services.

These restrictions are for the safety of all and were established in consultation with public health experts, but they do mean that even if we return to public worship, it will not be the experience we have been missing. When I dream about being with you all on Sunday morning,  I imagine full pews, joyful singing, warm greetings at the peace, and the opportunity to share the sacrament of Eucharist. Our current configuration would only allow 8 families to attend.  In addition, many of those we love will be absent:  around half of the parishioners  of St. Mark’s fall into high risk categories

Rather than settle for worship that is a pale shadow of the joyful gatherings we usually experience at St. Mark’s and that excludes many of those we love and miss seeing, we will continue to make our primary Sunday service an online worship experience for the foreseeable future. Online, we can continue to sing joyously, to read the psalms and the prayers together, to listen and reflect on the words of Scripture. We can continue to gather via Zoom afterwards for a chance to talk about what is going on in our lives and share reflections about our faith. We can continue to invite people near and far to join us, including those who do not currently have a church home and who are longing to hear a word of Good News. We can continue to hear the stories of God’s mighty acts of salvation in the past and remind one another that we can trust God to lead us through to the other side of the current crisis.  It isn’t the same as doing it in person, but right now, being together in person won’t be the same, either. 

As we prepare for fall, we have also formed a joint committee with Trinity Chapel to explore additional opportunities to gather in small groups for prayer, connection, and service in ways that are less risky. These may include outdoor worship, small group prayer gatherings, or socially distanced work parties in support of our food and other ministries; your suggestions for other possibilities are most welcome! 

We will also seek to continue to improve our online offerings. We have received a small grant from our Diocese to purchase equipment to improve our video capabilities, and are exploring ways to improve the online worship experience and our online formation programs. We are also brainstorming ways to connect with newcomers and invite people in the wider community who are seeking to understand God better to join us in prayer, discussion, and learning. 

I realize this is not what many were hoping to hear. When we shut down in March, we all thought it would be a matter of weeks before we could worship together again. Now, it appears we will have to love one another at a distance for many months to come.  I know this will cause distress for many of you, and I am available for conversation and prayer via telephone and Zoom at any time. I also encourage you to reach out to one another to support each other, as well. If you know of anyone who would benefit from a phone call from me or our pastoral care team, please let me or Herb Elliott, our pastoral care team leader, know. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13) 

Suzanne

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Praying Together for Justice and Peace


On Sunday, June 7, we'll pray the following Prayers of the People, written by Rev. Suzanne based on Psalm 130. Won't you join us? 


In these days of strife and fear, let us pray with the words of the Psalmist

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord hear my voice. 

We pray, Lord, for all those who work for justice. We pray for those whose voices have gone too long unheard. We pray that you may turn our hearts towards our brothers and sisters of color and enlighten our minds to understand how we have, knowingly or unknowingly, contributed to their suffering and grief. 

If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?

We pray for those who work for reconciliation and for healing. We pray that you will give our leaders wisdom, patience, and restraint. We pray that you will inspire us to learn more and do more for the sake of justice and peace.  

For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared. 

We pray for the Church and especially for the witness we offer in these troubled times. We pray for our bishops, and offer our thanksgivings for their prophetic words. We pray for all those who minister to the sick, the lonely, the desperate, and the despairing. We pray for preachers, that you will give them words to share today that will encourage and challenge those who hear them. 

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.

We pray for the sick, the oppressed, and the needy. We pray for victims of looting and violence.  We pray for the unemployed, and for those who are afraid to return to work. We pray for healthcare workers and first responders. We pray for renewal in all the earth. 

My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 

We pray for all who have died, and especially for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all who have been victims of fear and racism. 

O people, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy.

We pray for our own needs, and the needs of those we love. We pray for all on St. Mark’s prayer listThe people are invited to add their own petitions and thanksgivings

With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem the people from all their sins. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Covid-19 Closure Update

On Monday, May 18, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker included churches among the first organizations allowed to resume activities in the state’s phased pandemic re-opening plan. On Friday, May 22, President Donald Trump urged congregations nationwide to begin gathering for worship immediately.

Nevertheless, the bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, in conjunction with the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, have continued to prohibit in-person worship until July 1. They have also issued a stringent set of standards that must be met before we can open our doors or return to our traditional practices of worship, including sharing Holy Communion. These standards make it entirely possible that virtual worship will continue past July 1, and that we will not share a service of Holy Eucharist for some time beyond the resumption of in-person worship.

This is distressing news, made all the more so by the permission afforded by the secular authorities to resume in-person worship. But as St. Paul writes, “All things are lawful,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24) There is significant evidence that the governmental green light to churches comes from political pressure rather than an accurate assessment of what is best for worshipping communities. Our bishops, on the other hand, answer to a different authority, one who makes it clear that our first concern must always be the most vulnerable among us and that we must always place love for our neighbor above our own desires. It is that concern that has led the bishops to instruct us to keep our doors closed and our hearts open. 

I agree wholeheartedly with the president that churches are essential and that our nation is in more need of prayer than it has ever been in my lifetime. I just don’t agree that we have to risk the health and lives of the people we love in order to do that essential work. 

Jesus started his ministry with just 12 followers and no permanent headquarters, and drew thousands despite moving from place to place and teaching, healing, and feeding outdoors. The scattered communities of Christians of the early church, constantly under threat of persecution, produced a robust witness that still inspires the faithful today. Paul’s most fruitful ministry came in the form of letter-writing to small gatherings in cities across the Roman empire, a ministry that continues to enrich our faith almost 2,000 years later. 

All of this is to say that while gathering for worship is a great joy, it is not the only thing that marks us as Christian. In this moment, when opening our doors for worship could pose a life-and-death risk to the most vulnerable among us, the decision of what we should do is clear: we should continue to worship God and follow Jesus by gathering online to sing our praises and offer our prayers. We should concentrate our efforts on finding new ways to safely continue the ministry of teaching, feeding and healing that Jesus passed on to us. 

I wish I could share the president’s confidence that the worst is over and nothing bad would come of throwing open our doors and inviting everyone back in. But the news is full of stories of churches that have tried this and have quickly had to shut down again as many in the congregation and among the clergy have tested positive for Covid-19. Sunday worship is an almost perfect environment for spreading the virus, and even with careful social distancing, masks, and a ban on congregational singing, a single infected person could cause widespread sickness and death without even knowing they were infected.  As our bishops have said, clearly and forcefully, loving our neighbors as Christ first loved us precludes taking such a risk. 

But the most essential thing about being Christian has never been the way we come together, but the way we are sent out. In the Gospel of Matthew, the last words Jesus speaks to the disciples after his resurrection, on a mountaintop in Galilee, are: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 

We are not being locked out of our churches; we are being invited to go forth from our sanctuaries bearing witness to the power of Resurrection and carrying good news to those who would never have come to us. And Christ is going with us, even to the end of the age.

Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia. 

Your sister in Christ,
Suzanne


If you would like to read the Bishop's announcement and guidelines for re-opening, you can find them here: 
https://www.diomass.org/news/diocesan-news/bishops-extend-virtual-worship-timeframe-until-july-1

and here: https://www.diomass.org/sites/diomass/files/documents/A%20JOURNEY%20BY%20STAGES%202020_05_18.pdf

Friday, March 13, 2020

Brothers and sisters in Christ,
I am writing to inform you that beginning this Sunday, March 15, St. Mark’s is cancelling all in-person worship services and other activities.  We will offer online worship via Facebook Live, and a variety of other virtual ways to connect and pray with one another in this difficult time. 
We will follow local, state and federal guidelines and diocese recommendations regarding resuming normal activities.
An exception is the blood drive scheduled for March 18: due to the increasingly urgent need for blood donors, we still plan to host the American Red Cross from 2-7 p.m. in Williams Hall, with all due care and attention to minimizing the risk of infection. More information is available at redcrossblood.org.
We do not make this decision lightly, but it has become clear to us that following Jesus and loving our neighbor as ourselves requires us to do everything in our power to inhibit the spread of Covid-19. The most important way we can contribute to local public health efforts is to eliminate our in-person gatherings and offer people ways to stay connected to one another from a distance.  
To that end, we are planning a robust schedule of opportunities to pray together, converse together, worship together, and study together using Facebook, Zoom online meetings and phone conferences, email, phone calls, and good old envelopes and stamps!  
Among the opportunities we expect to make available in the next few days: 
Sunday Morning Prayer live from the sanctuary, with music, beginning Sunday, March 15, at 10 a.m. via Facebook Live. You do not have to have a Facebook account to watch the livestream video! Just go to www.facebook.com/stmarkwestford.  Ignore any prompts to log in: the video is offered to the public and can be viewed by anyone! There will also be links on our website and all email announcements.
Beginning Monday, March 16, we will also offer a daily Compline service at 9 p.m. via Facebook Live. This brief home-based prayer service will give us an opportunity to come together at the end of the day to pray for ourselves, for the sick and suffering, and for the world, as we entrust one another to God’s care for another day. 
We will continue our discussions about The Way of Love via Zoom Meeting on Sundays, at a time to be announced. You can participate in a Zoom meeting on your computer via video link, or by phoning a dedicated phone number and participating by voice only. We will add a regular “Theology at the (Virtual) Tavern” as a virtual gathering space for discussion and fellowship, and a book to read for future discussion.  We are also discussing opportunities for children and families. These online opportunities will require registration in order to receive instructions for joining, but are open to all, including those not affiliated with St. Mark’s. 
We will also be putting together a phone tree and asking every parishioner to call someone else each week, to offer encouragement, connection, and awareness of what is going on with each of our members. And we anticipate setting up a “pen pal” program for children and elders to increase intergenerational connections. 
We invite and encourage you to share these opportunities widely, with anyone you think might welcome a chance to connect with others right now. That might include friends and neighbors here in Westford, friends and family members living elsewhere, your social media friends, and the general public. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded the Church in his online address this week, we are all in this together.
While it is easy to be overwhelmed by anxiety in these difficult times, we are also being given an opportunity to let God’s light shine through us and to bear witness to the strength our faith grants us. We are reminded to place our trust in God and act out of compassion and love, not fear.  As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians:  
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  
Even when our lives are disrupted, when our sense of safety is destroyed, when there is ample cause to fear, the Bible tells us that God’s love for us never fails, that the darkness cannot overcome the Light, and that even death yields before the power of God. As a community of faith, let us live as a people whose hope never fails, because our hope is in the Lord.
Your sister in Christ,
Suzanne


The Rev. Suzanne Wade, rector at St. Mark’s, can be contacted by phone call or text at 508-472-9656 or via email at revsuzannewade@gmail.com

Friday, November 15, 2019

Give to God the Things that are God's


Some Pharisees …  came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? … [Jesus] said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him
Mark 12: 13-17.

It’s one of Jesus’s great take-down lines: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Pharisees were trying to trap him, you see. They had set up a no-win scenario: If Jesus said to pay taxes, he’d be siding with the hated Romans, which was sure to cause his followers to abandon him. Tell them not to pay the tax, on the other hand, and he was guilty of sedition and rebellion, which was the fast track to crucifixion.


But Jesus knew what they were trying to do, and he had an answer ready. “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The Romans nearby were satisfied: they presumed Jesus meant material wealth belonged to the emperor, while more “spiritual” things were God’s realm. 

The Pharisees and the rest of Jesus’s good Jewish followers would certainly have known that “the things that are God’s” is not limited to the spiritual: it means everything. God created the entire world, and everything in it. The gathered crowd would have known the words of Psalm 145:

The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand, 
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.

They would also have remembered the words of Leviticus: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. “ And Genesis: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” And many more verses like them.

The crowds listening that day knew all of creation belongs to God, including human beings, made in God’s very image. So when Jesus told the crowds to give to God the things that were God’s, they would have understood that meant all they had and all they were. Their first duty was to God, always.

When we talk about stewardship, it’s easy to find ourselves thinking about how much to give as the Romans might have: What do we owe God? Do we owe two percent of our income? Five percent? Ten percent? Before or after taxes? How much do we have to donate to be right with God?

But stewardship is not about paying a tax or even our “fair share.” It is about acknowledging that all we have and all we are belongs to God — our material wealth, our time, our talents and our very selves. We are not owners but stewards of these gifts, and our calling is not to give back a certain percent, but to reflect prayerfully and thoughtfully on how we use all that we have in partnership with God, to accomplish God’s will for the whole world. 

It is surely God’s will that we should have enough to eat, and a safe place to live, that our children should prosper and we should enjoy the fruits of our labor and the good things of this life. The Bible is clear that prosperity is what God desires for God’s people.

Praise the Lord!
   Happy are those who fear the Lord,
   who greatly delight in his commandments.
Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
   the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
   and their righteousness endures forever.
                                                   Psalm 112:1-3

But the Bible is also clear that prosperity is not intended for us alone. The blessings God gives are intended to be shared, so that everyone can rejoice in them. God wants everyone to have enough to eat and a safe place to live and for everyone’s children to prosper.  And for that to happen, we need to give some of what God has entrusted to our care to others, so that all may share in the blessings of our good and gracious God.

Stewardship, then, requires us to begin by counting our blessings, and offering thanks to God for all that we have.  It then requires us to ask, “What of this can be shared with others, that they may know the goodness of God?” This means our material wealth, of course, but also our time and our talent. It means giving our whole selves to that partnership with God that is re-making the world.

Some of the things we do will be to care for ourselves, so that we can bring a whole and healthy self before God. We will pray, and eat healthy meals, and exercise. We will keep the sabbath, so that we are renewed and rested. We will devote ourselves to our work, so we can be proud of our labor and have fruitful relationships with co-workers. 

Some of the things we do will be to care for our families: spending time together, nurturing and caring for children, grandchildren and aging parents, making sure their emotional and physical needs are met. We will save for our future and theirs and seek out wise advice so we can support ourselves in old age and provide for future generations. 

Some of the things we will do will be to care for our communities and the wider world. We will give to charity and organizations that support those in need; we will volunteer our time for worthy organizations that are working to make a difference in the world; we will visit lonely neighbors, care for the sick, and help those in need; and we will participate in  the political process, reminding our elected officials to act out of concern for the poor and vulnerable and in the interest of justice and peace.

And some of the things we will do will be to care for our church, because the church reminds us that all we are and all we have are God’s, and helps us find opportunities to serve, refreshment in worship and prayer, encouragement in study of the Scriptures, and a community of people who love and care for one another.  I hope you will give generously, so that we can continue to offer the hospitality of our building, the beauty of our worship, and our service to the community. Our budget depends on the generous giving of our members: without it, we simply will not have the resources to continue doing the work God has given us, as a community of faith, to do. 

But most of all, I hope you will find joy and delight in giving to God the things that are God’s — because in doing so we recognize that all of creation is enfolded in his love and care, and we  know ourselves to be wholly God’s, beloved and chosen. We give generously not out of fear but out of gladness and thanksgiving, because we know the One in whom we live and move and have our being. 

May you be blessed abundantly in this season of Thanksgiving.

Suzanne

Rev. Suzanne Wade
Rector, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

Westford, MA

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Great Commission -- April 29

 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in t he name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ Matthew 28:16-20


Matthew’s gospel includes only a few brief moments with the resurrected Jesus. In Matthew 28, the women go to the tomb, which is guarded by Roman soldiers, and suddenly an angel of the Lord descends from heaven and rolls back the stone. The soldiers pass out in terror. As in Mark’s gospel, the angel tells them “He is not here; he has been raised, as he said,” and instructs them to go tell the other disciples and to go to Galilee.  In Matthew’s gospel, as the women run from the tomb, Jesus suddenly appears before them and says, “Greetings!” After they fall at his feet and worship him, he says, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” 

And that’s it, until we get to today’s passage. The disciples apparently decamped from Jerusalem and hurried back to Galilee, where Jesus was waiting for them just as promised. If it all feels hurried and confusing, I think that was probably the disciples’ experience as well. After all, even as they worship him, we are told, “some doubted.” Even the evidence of their own eyes was not enough to expel the bewilderment they felt. 

But Jesus doesn’t chastise them, or wait for everyone to get with the program. Instead, he tells them to go and make disciples of all nations, to baptize and teach. Perfect understanding, utter certainty, and a well-developed theology of salvation do not seem to have been pre-requisites for this new commission.
Instead, what they receive is a promise: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Resurrection means the work continues, but we do not have to undertake it alone. We may struggle. We may doubt. But there is no longer reason for despair. No matter what roads we find ourselves on, the Risen Christ has gone before us. 

As we move through Eastertide into Ordinary Time, we may find the experience of the Eleven on a mountain in Galilee to be the one that best approximates our own experience.  It may not aways be clear to us what we are doing, or what we should expect. We may be there because someone else has told us that Jesus will show; we may find, even in the midst of the experience, that we have doubts. 


But perfect clarity and a fully articulated theology are not the essential ingredients for going out to share the Good News. What is needed is an openness to meeting Jesus in unexpected places, in the midst of the work that has been given to us to do.

The first disciples took their first steps away from the mountaintop feeling the same mix of confusion and hope we so often feel today. They did not wait for everything to fall into place, instead trusting in Jesus who promised to be with them. If we follow their lead, we may well find that it is in the telling of tale that we begin to see where we were going all along. And we will certainly discover that he is with us in the midst of it, to the very end. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Feed my Sheep -- Sunday, April 22

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus and Peter
 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ John 20:1-19

This week’s post-Resurrection appearance follows Jesus’ two appearances to the disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Up until now, we’ve had no report of words between Peter and Jesus. We know Peter was one of the two disciples who, upon receiving the remarkable news of the empty tomb, ran to the tomb to see for himself. But Jesus was not there, and in the prior two appearances, there is no report of any kind of personal exchange between Peter and Jesus. 

The silence invites curiosity. We all remember reading on Good Friday Peter’s dramatic denial of Jesus — three times before the cock crowed, just as Jesus predicted. In John’s Gospel, it is told simply, a bare recitation of fact: three questions, three denials, and then finally the bald statement, “and at that moment the cock crowed.” We are left to imagine how Peter felt or what he did next: he does not appear in the narrative again until Mary Magdalene runs to tell him the stone has been rolled away. 

But it is not hard to imagine Peter agonizes over his failure. His absence from the scene of the cross is notable; in John’s version the Beloved Disciple is there to hear Jesus’ last words and take Mary into his care, as are several women, but not Peter. Presumably he is present in the upper room with the other disciples, but he doesn’t utter a word — is he struck dumb with fear that Jesus will not forgive him? Is he waiting for Jesus to speak, to condemn him for his faithlessness? 

By the time we get to this story, he is willing to wait no longer. When he realizes the miraculous catch is a gift from the Lord, he leaps into the sea to reach Jesus faster. And finally, we hear Jesus speak to Peter: “Peter, do you love me?”  

At first, it seems like a fair question, given Peter’s earlier denial. But then it’s repeated. And then again, a third time! Peter feels hurt, the Gospel writer tells us: hasn’t he already given the answer? 

But Jesus is not asking because he needs to know: he’s asking because Peter needs to know. Peter is given the opportunity to turn his denials into affirmations. Instead of denying Jesus, he is invited to serve him. Just as he denied Jesus three times, now he is asked, three times, do you love me enough to take up the work I am leaving undone? To care for my flock, as I would? Even if it means going where you do not want to go? Even if it means dying as I did?

And this time, Peter says yes. This time, he takes up the staff and follows. This time, Jesus does not contradict him when he says, “You know that I do.”  

it is often said that God is a God of second chances. But with Peter, we see that God is not just God of second chances, but of third chances, and fourth chances, and fifth chances. Indeed, God never seems to give up on us, even when we have failed about as abysmally as it is possible to fail. Instead, God invites us to stand up, dust ourselves off, and try again. He invites us back into right relationship, invites us to take up the work that anyone else might have deemed us unworthy for. We need not hide at the back of the room, stay away from the table, or avoid making eye contact. The love shown to us in Jesus is not limited by our failure to live fully into that love. Instead, that love is offered again and again — as many times as we need, until we are finally ready to follow. 

“Do you love me?” Lord, you know that we do. “Then feed my sheep.”  What are we waiting for? What is holding us back? Because we are already forgiven, already welcomed, and Jesus awaits our response.